When people think of Purim, they generally think of costumes and hamantaschen, or maybe the commandment to get drunk. But it is so much more than that.
Some people think that unlike other Jewish holidays, Purim has less explicitly spiritual perspectives. The keyword is explicit. While there may not be as many rituals, the holiday itself exudes spiritual joy.
Purim affords us a time of deep introspection and intense, joyous celebration. Rabbi Zushe Winner, a Talmudic scholar, discusses in a lecture on Purim the intensity of the holiday. According to Rabbi Winner, the Zohar discusses Yom Kippur's etymology, which in full is Yom Kippurim, which he says translates to mean “like Purim.” He continues with, “the kabbalah says that therefore to a certain degree there’s a greater spirituality on Purim than on Yom Kippur” (1). The spiritual high we reach on Purim is like that we reach on Yom Kippur. This is considered especially interesting, as out of all of our sacred texts, the Megillah (The Scroll of Esther), is the only one that does not contain the name of God. Not only that, but God is very rarely mentioned within it.
Art by Ephraim Moses Lilien
But in Kabbalah, the discussion runs deeper. In Pessach, which comes soon after Purim, we see HaShem's direct intervention in the Torah. HaShem guides Moshe, hand in hand, as he leads the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. In the Megillah, Esther, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah, fortifies herself without public action from HaShem. Kabbalists interpret this as the presence of Shekhina, the feminine, present divine aspect of HaShem, guiding Esther behind the scenes, ever-present, but without direct intervention a la splitting the Red Sea.
Scholars have long since acknowledged that this is one of the many important lessons to be gleaned from Purim: HaShem (whatever you call it---Gd, the Divine, The Universe, Goddess, Divinity, Source, Creator, the capacity for creation, the capacity for human-kindness, etc) is always here, ever-present. Miracles like a giant frog that spews tiny frogs when hit (yes, this is an actual commentary on one of the plagues of Egypt) aren't the only signals of HaShem in our lives.
Purim is a time for us to make merry, to drink, to dance, to eat, to celebrate our survival, and stamp out the names of our enemies, so here are a few ways for you to take part:
Mishloach Manot are gifts of food, given to family and friends, but also those in need. The tradition is a long one.
“The Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the 14th day of the month of Adar a day of gladness and feasting, a holiday, and of sending portions to one another (mishloach manot ).” (2)
Mishloach Manot have rules that vary by Jewish movement, but generally, they are:
They must include at least two foods, and every adult must give at least one, even if it is in exchange.
Normally, gift baskets are given, filled with Hamantaschen, nuts, dried fruit, wine, candies, chocolates, fruits, and more. This can vary by household and minhag.
As we live in strange, strenuous times, to stay COVID safe, people are distance dropping off mishloach manot or ordering their friends food from their favorite restaurants to be dropped off via delivery service to their homes.
Part of the magic of Purim is that every person is meant to be accounted for. One of the Mitzvot required upon Purim is Matanot L'evyonim, or gifts for those in need.
It is generally accepted that it must be a meal or the monetary equivalent of a meal.
Foods for Purim
Perhaps the most popular food for Purim are Hamantaschen, literally named: Haman's pockets (taschen meaning pockets or bags). These small, triangular cookies are filled with poppyseed, jams, chocolate, or other such sweet fillings. Other traditional foods to eat are intricately braided challah, kreplach, beans, or peas (also chickpeas, which are technically legumes, not beans or peas). In Sephardic communities, folares, "pastry dough flecked with cheese in a cage like shape representing Haman’s (the evil villain in the Megillah) hanging noose. Encased in the cage or noose is a hardboiled egg representing Haman’s head" (3).
The Fast of Esther
I preface this with the reminder that if fasting is in any way unsafe for you (mentally or physically), you are obligated to take care of yourself first.
Before going to meet with the King without him summoning her, an extremely dangerous act as he beheaded his last wife who disobeyed him, Esther prepared herself with three days of fasting. She asked the Jews of her kingdom to do so with her, to fortify her. In order to commemorate her, a fast day is observed on the 13th of Adar.
Stamp Out the Name
There is an old Jewish saying, "may their name be erased". This is not just a saying but a curse. We stamp out the name of those who have wronged up, those who deserve no forgiveness. They have done no teshuvah, not worked to right their wrongs--and even if they had, we would not be obligated to forgive them. On Purim, I am reminded of those whose name I stamp out. Haman sought to destroy the Jewish people because of his pride, and centuries later, we eat his ears and boo at hiss at the very sound of his name.
One of the magical aspects of Purim is that of joy. In times of horror, in the face of a literal genocide, Jews overcame and found joy. As we move through life, and the global pandemic, finding joy is as important as ever.
While merely taking part in the merriment of Purim, whether it be by dressing up, drinking, eating, or spending time (over Zoom) with your community, is enough to spark joy, here is a small ritual to take time to focus on it for the upcoming months.
Take a pen and paper and write upon it all the ways that you can bring joy into your life. Then, write down all the things that already bring you happiness in your life. Hold it close to you, recite it aloud, or sit and spend time with it.
Then, when you're ready, burn it or toss it away and go about your Purim with the intention of acknowledging, attracting, and accepting the happiness that is coming your way.
Wishing you all a wonderful Purim,
P.S. if you're dressing up, please feel free to tag me on Instagram @jewitches! I will be reposting your Instagram posts to my story to share all of your lovely costumes!